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Gastroenterology Blog

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Posted by Gastroenterology Associates on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:47 AM

IBS doctorIrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that occurs in the large intestine, colon, or small intestine.  IBS is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract which means that changes in how the GI tract works causes IBS problems.  A functional disorder of the GI tract means that the intestines may appear normal during a test but it’s function/how it works is altered.

IBS symptoms are experienced by approximately 1 in 6 people in the US and affecting between 24 and 55 million people annually.  Also, it is estimated that 20-40% of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to the symptoms of IBS.

IBS is a set of symptoms that occur together and is not a disease.  The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • abdominal pain or discomfort
  • cramping
  • diarrhea – frequent and loose stools
  • constipation - infrequent stools that can be dry and/or hard
  • alternating between diarrhea and constipation
  • bloating
  • gas
  • mucus in the stool
  • feeling as if your bowel movement isn’t finished
  • upper stomach area discomfort or feeling uncomfortably full or nauseous after eating a normal size meal

In years past, the names associated with these symptoms are colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon, and spastic bowel.  However, better understanding of the IBS patient’s physical and mental impacts on their GI health led to a change in the name of the disorder to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

IBS is diagnosed after a person experiences abdominal pain or discomfort a minimum of three times per month for the past 3 months, where no other disease or injury can explain the pain. The pain or discomfort of IBS may take place with a shift in consistency or frequency of stools and relief may be experienced with bowel movement.

Most IBS sufferers figure out methods of controlling their symptoms and the condition, and only a very small number of people with IBS endure disabling symptoms.  Fortunately, IBS doesn’t cause inflammation or changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer, unlike more-serious Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.  Lifestyle changes, diet modifications, and stress reduction are typically the best methods of managing the symptoms of IBS.

Bowel muscles contract during the course of the day and move the feces in the intestine with each contraction.  In people with IBS, these contractions can be triggered by certain stimuli.  Some of those stimuli are explored further in the whitepaper below.

ibs causes

Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician.    Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.

Topics: Irritable Bowel Syndrome